Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Top Story

Save the trees: skip the soy, make-up and macaroni
Choosing products that have not contributed to deforestation is difficult, but every little bit helps.
I’m an environmentalist, and I try to make green choices. I take public transportation, recycle and program my thermostat. But the care and keeping of our forests always seemed far removed from my urban self. At least, it did until I visited a coffee farm in the Ecuadorian rainforest. There, I saw firsthand the way copper miners and loggers are destroying the natural environment.

Energy and Climate Change

Meltdown Earth: the shocking reality of climate change kicks in – but who is listening?
And another one bites the dust. The year 2014 was the warmest ever recorded by humans. Then 2015 was warmer still. January 2016 broke the record for the largest monthly temperature anomaly. Then came last month. February didn’t break climate change records – it obliterated them. Regions of the Arctic were were more than 16℃ warmer than normal – whatever constitutes normal now. But what is really making people stand up and notice is that the surface of the Earth north of the equator was 2℃ warmer than pre-industrial temperatures. This was meant to be a line that must not be crossed.

‘True shocker’: February spike in global temperatures stuns scientists
Global temperatures leapt in February, lifting warming from pre-industrial levels to beyond 1.5 degrees, and stoking concerns about a “climate emergency”…. According to NASA analysis, average temperatures last month were 1.35 degrees above the norm for the 1951-1980 period. They smashed the previous biggest departure from the average – set only in the previous month – by 0.21 degrees.


Tipping point: how we predict when Antarctica’s melting ice sheets will flood the seas
A recent article on The Conversation raised the concept of “climate tipping points”: thresholds in the climate system that, once breached, lead to substantial and irreversible change. Such a climate tipping point may occur as a result of the increasingly rapid decline of the Antarctic ice sheets, leading to a rapid rise in sea levels. But what is this threshold? And when will we reach it?

EU green transport target ‘may have increased greenhouse gas emissions’
European Union renewable energy targets may have increased greenhouse gas emissions because the dirtiest biofuels produce three times the emissions of diesel oil, according to the most complete EU analysis yet carried out. Biodiesel made from palm oil emits more than three times as much and soybean oil around twice as much, when the crops’ effects on land use are considered, the research by the Ecofys consultancy for the European commission found.

Solar power sheds bright light on the United States
American journalists have been scrambling to create new, catchy headlines about solar power in the last two weeks as a sudden wave of solar industry news has surged  across the country.  In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to stay the Clean Power Plan, growing analysis of the state of the U.S. green economy has shown several signs proving that the low-carbon movement is getting even stronger this year in the U.S. and spreading across the world.

New modelling shows renewable-based system cheaper than fossil fuels
AUSTRALIA – The modelling, known as SIREN, looks at the West Australian grid, known as the South West Interconnected System, and shows that an electricity system with 85 per cent renewable energy will be cheaper than “business as usual” – an average of $124/MWh compared to $127/MWh – and around the same price as current costs.

Five years after Fukushima, there are big lessons for nuclear disaster liability
As four reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power plant suffered catastrophic cooling failures and exploded in March 2011, the world watched in disbelief. For Japan, this was not just the greatest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. It was “the most severe crisis … since World War II.” Five years on, the nation continues to struggle with the effects.

Environment and Biodiversity

Coral bleaching threat level increased by Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
Authorities monitoring the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority have increased the coral bleaching threat level after divers found widespread loss of coral… It warned there was a high risk of mass coral bleaching on the reef this month due to the hot, dry conditions associated with the El Nino weather system and high sea surface temperatures.

Shark Spotters inspect Gold Coast beaches in hope of non-lethal shark mitigation
Representatives from South Africa’s Shark Spotters program are inspecting Gold Coast beaches to determine if they are suitable for non-lethal methods of shark control. Project manager Sarah Waries said Shark Spotters is a safety and research organisation based in Cape Town. “Our mandate is the sustainable coexistence of people and sharks,” she said.

Sounds from the deep
The first audio recordings taken at the deepest point of the world’s oceans reveal that the noises humans make on the surface can penetrate to depths of over 10 kilometres. A team from the US government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has returned from the Challenger Deep trough in the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific Ocean with their findings. Listen to an earthquake (and a whale!), the rhythmic sound of a ship’s propellers, and a whale call.

Recording Christchurch’s birdsong cacophony
When botanist Joseph Banks visited New Zealand in 1769-70, he recorded in his diary that he was awakened by birdsong. “The numbers of them were certainly very great . . . their voices were certainly the most melodious wild musick I have ever heard”. Now a flock of tech folks want to return the dawn chorus to its rightful volumes.   They call the project Cacophony.

It’s a Good Year for Monarchs, But More Butterflies Are On the Brink
Ever heard of the Saint Francis satyr? On National Learn About Butterflies Day, we tell you about some of the rarest species.

Nature’s cheats: how animals and plants trick and deceive
As night closes in across Kentucky a small chubby spider makes a silk line between two plants. She then moves along her “trapeze wire” and waits. After a while a moth approaches within range, and the spider unleashes a swinging sticky ball, ensnaring the moth and pulling him in to be eaten. The attacker is a bolas spider, and she hunts by releasing an odour that precisely matches the chemical composition of female moth mating pheromones. The male moth is lured in, but instead of getting a mate, he gets eaten. Bolas spiders are just one of a plethora of animals and plants which are highly skilled at thriving through trickery and deception.

Kakapo to have genomes sequenced in a world first for science
Every one of New Zealand’s 125 remaining kakapo will have their genomes sequenced in a final effort to save them. Championed by the famous travelling bird Sirocco, the highly endangered native parrot’s DNA is thought to hold precious insights into fertility and disease resistance. The Kakapo 125 project, launched on Monday by Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce, will sequence all the genomes of kakapo in a world first.
You can support the crowdfunding project or support the sequencing of an individual kakapo genome.

Griffith University native plant app to stop the weeds
AUSTRALIA – Being environmentally friendly doesn’t always mean recycling milk cartons. When driving on Queensland roads there are plenty of beautiful flowers growing on the reserve. More often than not those flowers are a weed that has escaped from someone’s garden. While the flowers are pretty they are most likely insidious as well. They smother out the native plants and when that happens, native birds and butterflies get smothered out as well. And eventually those garden escapees like lantana or the asparagus vine will cause the destruction of our forest giants. A professor and her team at Griffith University on the Gold Coast are working on a mobile app that can help.

Economy and Business

Carbon is a terrible thing to waste
Wow. If you read GreenBiz’s State of Green Business 2016 report cover to cover, as I did, you will both learn a lot and be impressed by the breadth and depth of technology-enabled economic opportunity arising out of society’s drive towards sustainability. The business proposition that green can be turned into gold never has been more true.

Heathrow introduces new sustainable pledges for food and beverage retailers
Heathrow has become the first UK airport to propose a series of environmental targets, including energy reduction, recycling and a ‘mystery shopper’ programme, for restaurants and outlets in the airport. In partnership with the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA), Heathrow has launched the Ingredients for Success guide which aims to bridge individual sustainability targets set by restaurants with the overarching themes of the Responsible Heathrow 2020 targets.

Waste and the Circular Economy

The Californian craft beer brewed from waste water
In autumn of 2014 – three years into California’s devastating drought– architect Russ Drinker became fixated on brewing beer from recycled greywater (that is, water that’s been treated after use in sinks, showers and washing clothes). He was increasingly frustrated that the media paid little attention to water recycling. “They were focused on conservation instead. But if Californians really want to have an impact on our water use, we have to recycle our freshwater … and get over our psychological resistance to that.”

Politics and Society

200 reasons why people choose “Life Off Grid” – and why most of us shouldn’t
Why do people choose to live in homes that are not connected – by design or by default – to established electricity or gas networks? It’s a question that we have asked here on One Step many times. But for Phillip Vannini, producer of the Canadian 2015 documentary Life Off Grid, it’s a question he asked at least 200 times, between 2011 and 2013, as he travelled to every province and territory in the country visiting “off-gridders” in their homes.

Coal-fired plant permits no longer need proof of pollution standards plan
Scores of Britain’s coal-fired power stations, steel plants and iron works will no longer have to maintain a plan to show they will meet air pollution standards under the latest permits issued by the government. ClientEarth, a group of environment lawyers who last year successfully sued the government over air pollution, said the permits deleted a condition that required the plants’ operators to publish air quality management plans and to assess how much they might damage protected nature areas

Electric cars need tax breaks – expert
A visiting electric vehicle expert says New Zealand should offer tax incentives to kick-start their uptake here as the Government says it is working on measures that will be released soon. The roll-out out of plug-in vehicles here has been slow with just over 1000 of them on the roads among a light vehicle fleet of more than three million.

A Life-or-Death Hunt for Tree Thieves
The rangers were slogging their way up the mud-slick mountainside in Thap Lan National Park when a hand signal brought our patrol to a sharp halt. A scout up ahead had found a letter “K” carved into the side of a tree. It was the signature of a timber poacher, rumored to be Cambodian, who had evaded capture for months, taunting them each time he pushed deeper into protected Thai territory.

Built Environment

$1.5bn sustainable cities platform launched in Singapore
A new platform to support the development of sustainable cities has been launched in Singapore and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) will fund the project with an estimated US$1.5 billion.

Investors call for legally-binding, zero-energy building standards
Responding to the ongoing proposals to overhaul EU directives on energy efficiency and performance in buildings, the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC) has today (11 March) called for legally binding targets to be introduced that would see non-compliant providers stripped of accreditation if their buildings fail to meet near-zero energy standards.

Caltex taps solar PV, so it can pump more diesel at remote fuel stations
Australian oil major Caltex has built what it claims to be the world’s first “portable solar-powered diesel fuel outlets”, designed to provide easy, 24-hour access to diesel fuel to trucks in remote parts of Western Australia’s Pilbara region.

Pigeon patrol takes flight to tackle London’s air pollution crisis
They’ve been driven from Trafalgar square for being a nuisance, derided as rats with wings and maligned as a risk to public health. But now pigeons could play a small part in helping Londoners overcome one of the capital’s biggest health problems – its illegal levels of air pollution blamed for thousands of deaths a year.

13 million along US coast could see homes swamped by 2100, study finds
US coastal areas occupied by more than 13 million people will be at risk of being completely swamped by the sea under a worst-case climate change scenario, new research predicts, potentially leading to a population upheaval comparable to the Great Migration of the 20th century.



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